SINGAPORE: The living conditions at the S11 Dormitory @ Punggol and Westlite Toh Guan Dormitories has “stabilised”, particularly in key areas such as the distribution of meals and cleaning, said the Migrant Workers’ Centre (MWC) on Tuesday (Apr 7).
Both dormitories were on Sunday (Apr 5) gazetted as isolation areas following a spike in the number of COVID-19 cases. Nearly 20,000 workers across the two dormitories have been placed under quarantine, meaning they will have to stay in their rooms for 14 days.
Following the announcement, photos and videos circulating online appeared to show crowded and unsanitary conditions at the S11 Dormitory, and an ambulance and medical personnel at Westlite Toh Guan.
READ: MOM says working to improve conditions for S11 Dormitory, Westlite Toh Guan residents
In a media release on Monday (Apr 6), the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) acknowledged there had been “challenges at the start”, but said that its officers have been “working round-the-clock” with dormitory operators and partners to prioritise the well-being of residents.
Speaking in Parliament on Tuesday, Minister of State for Manpower Zaqy Mohamad said that MOM had last inspected the S11 dormitory on Mar 4, before the spike in cases, and found that the dormitory was clean and the conditions were “satisfactory”.
After S11 and Westlite were gazetted as isolation areas, there were challenges “at the start” with the transition, he added.
“We acknowledge the challenges at the start to prepare the living areas for isolation while quarantine was going on,” he said.
“These are not normal times, and while not ideal, the dorm conditions admittedly, could have been up-kept better during this transition.
“I would like to assure Singaporeans that MOM is coordinating efforts to ensure that the needs and well-being of our foreign workers residing at both dormitories are well taken care of.”
He added that MOM officers and MWC have been working with dormitory operators and our partners to “prioritise the well-being of workers who remain healthy”.
READ: COVID-19: Nearly 20,000 foreign workers in quarantine in S11 Dormitory, Westlite Toh Guan
In response to queries from CNA, MWC said that it had been working with its ambassadors at S11 Punggol and Westlite Toh Guan dormitories even before they were gazetted as isolation zones.
“Government officials on the ground have been proactive in acting upon feedback from our MWC ambassadors and workers,” said MWC chairman Yeo Guat Kwang.
“As such, we have seen a steady improvement in logistics, management and other support processes associated with such large scale operations. Today, we were told that the situation at both dormitories have stabilised, especially in key areas like meals distribution and cleaning,” he said.
“Our MWC officers on the ground can attest to these improvements too.”
MWC, which is a bipartite initiative of the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) and the Singapore National Employers’ Federation (SNEF), has about 5000 ambassadors across all purpose-built dormitories.
Moving forward, it plans to continue to work with its ambassadors at all other dormitories, in the event that stricter controls need to be implemented.
READ: COVID-19: Toh Guan Dormitory declared an isolation area under Infectious Diseases Act
“MWC will not only provide them with the latest information but also the necessary support and encouragement, so that they can continue to engage and rally their fellow workers around this larger community effort to stop the spread of COVID-19,” said Mr Yeo.
“We are also exploring new plans to deepen our engagement with residents of all the large dormitories during this period by leveraging virtual communication technologies to stay in close contact with them.”
In addition, MWC plans to provide additional help to migrant workers by distributing simple gift or care package items to as many of them as possible, to “appreciate them for weathering through the ‘circuit breaker’ period with us”, it said.
‘WE NEED TO BE THERE FOR THEM’
Non-governmental organisation Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (HOME) said that more workers may require assistance during the circuit breaker period, not just those in the dormitories that have been designated as isolation areas.
“We plan to appeal to the Government to let us continue to operate so we could help those who are affected badly, with emergency assistance to meet their immediate basic needs like food, medical care and transport. As well as emotional support for those who are facing distress, especially with their families relying on them,” casework manager Luke Tan told CNA.
“There are many more workers who are going to be affected, not only in the locked down dorms. These other workers will not be getting the same level of government intervention and help. We need to be there for them.”
READ: Yes, wear a mask but when and why? Here’s what you need to know
NGO Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2) vice-president Alex Au told CNA on Monday too that he hopes that Singapore will reconsider how workers are currently housed.
“We saw this coming. We could have predicted today’s headlines about two or three weeks ago,” said Mr Au, who explained that over the years, TWC2 had received feedback from workers on the general conditions of dormitories.
“TWC2 is hopeful that one long-term benefit of this crisis is that we seriously look at our regulations about how we house our workers.”